Washington, May 6 : After taking the communications world by storm, cell phones are now set to revolutionize the field of medicine with its new role in telemedicine.
A team of researchers from US and Brazil have announced the development of a simple, inexpensive telemedicine system that uses ordinary cell phone cameras to collect medical data from patients and transmit the data to experts located offsite for analysis and diagnosis.
The system can also transmit urgent medical data from battlefields, disaster zones, and other dangerous locations.
Cell phones are the most popular and inexpensive devices, owned by almost 3 billion users worldwide.
When equipped with cameras, they can conceivably be used in remote areas as the eyes and ears of doctors without the need to visit.
"The cellular communications industry is, and will continue to become, a global resource that can be leveraged for detecting disease," said study leader George M. Whitesides, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Two other studies by other researchers have also shown that cell phones can be used to acquire and transmit images of wounds and rashes to off-site locations for diagnosis.
In the present study, researchers have designed a prototype system that combines cell phone cameras with easy-to-use, paper-based diagnostic tests that undergo colour changes when exposed to certain disease markers.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of the system by using paper test-strips to collect and characterize artificial urine samples, as urine can be easily obtained from patients and contains a wide range of disease markers.
With the help of cell phone camera, they took pictures of the colour-changing test-strips and transmitted them remotely to an off-site expert. The trained expert accurately measured glucose and protein levels, used as hallmarks to diagnose various kidney diseases, from the test-strip image.
Scientists said that similar tests can be conducted on other body fluids, including teardrops and saliva.
Besides diagnosing diseases in humans, the system can also be used to detect disease in plants and livestock and for testing the quality of water and food, the researchers said.
The study will appear in the May 15 issue of the American Chemical Society's Analytical Chemistry, a semi-monthly journal.